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Shakespeare: The Biography Hardcover – October 25, 2005


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese; First Edition edition (October 25, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385511396
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385511391
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.7 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #511,276 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

[Signature]Reviewed by Ron RosenbaumAt their best, Shakespearean biographers are like great jazz musicians, able to take a few notes of an old standard and spin them into dizzying riffs of conjecture. At their worst they reshuffle old wives' tales, piling supposition upon conjecture into a rickety house of cards. Peter Ackroyd can riff with the best, and he brings to the task of making the old facts fresh some themes and variations of his own that deserve a hearing. He is particularly good, in fact, on the question of sound: the way the language Shakespeare wrote, his players spoke and his audiences heard differed from the Shakespeare we hear and read today. Demonstrating the courage of his convictions, he does something daring for a book aimed at a general reader: he renders all of his citations from Shakespeare "in the original." Thus a phrase from Timon of Athens is printed: "Our Poesie is as a Goume which ouses" (rather than "gum which oozes"), an effect that can defamiliarize, often in an illuminating way.An accomplished literary biographer, Ackroyd doesn't offer a new explanation of how the glover's son of provincial Stratford became the sophisticated poetic genius of London. Instead he gives us intelligent, often elegant, variations on the old ones. Like many of his fellow biographers he warns us that a particular "tradition" has no corroboration and then plays it out anyway. So with such recent, hotly debated questions as whether Shakespeare spent time in his youth in the household of subversive secret Catholics, Ackroyd spins it out for all it's worth.But the great strength of Ackroyd's book is the depth of his immersion in the culture of Shakespeare's age and the sense he gives of Shakespeare as a product of that extraordinary moment in time. His feeling for the role of the theater in Elizabethan London, "a city where dramatic spectacles became the primary means of understanding reality," seems to come from an impressively wide reading of Shakespeare's dramatic and poetic contemporaries. His judgments about the work itself are sometimes ingenious, occasionally eccentric, as when he tells us, "All the evidence suggests, too, that the speech, 'To be or not to be' is an interpolation," an unnecessary addition to Hamlet, possibly "from another play altogether." While location of "To be or not to be" is different in an early quarto of Hamlet, to say "All the evidence suggests" interpolation is an overstatement. Still, immersion in Ackroyd's biography cumulatively gives one a feeling that one has lived for a brief time in Shakespeare's world. Ackroyd constructs a an intricate mosaic of Elizabethan context, which brings us closer to the shadowy figure, whose most renowned character, Hamlet, tells us: "I have that within which passes show."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–Describing himself as a Shakespeare enthusiast instead of an expert, Ackroyd focuses on the bard as an extraordinarily talented theater professional rather than rhapsodizing about the intricacies of the man's genius. He interweaves Shakespeare's life story with England's dramatic history and the fascinating world of the emerging Elizabethan theater. Apocryphal stories are identified and plausible explanations for what occurred during the missing years are offered. Shakespeare emerges as a thoroughly engaging, almost modern man, brimming with humor, eager for social advancement, and carefully tracking the popular trends in entertainment. Students who want to discover whether Shakespeare really was the author of the famous plays will find compelling evidence that only the man from Stratford could have hidden so many ingenious clues in his work. Sixteen pages of color illustrations include portraits of Shakespeare's famous contemporaries, photographs of the interiors of Elizabethan buildings, and illustrated title pages. Those daunted by the length of this book will find it a good reference source. Students looking for information on the building of the Globe, the meanings of the sonnets, the differences in the various editions and revisions of the plays, and other typical academic questions will find useful, well-organized information. A rich, vivid account.–Kathy Tewell, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

Our library non-fiction group read this book and enjoyed it.
L. M. Keefer
Funnily enough I feel like I'm getting to know something about the life of William Shakespeare.
Mainstreet
Ackroyd, not a Shakespeare scholar himself, but an enthusiast, documents his sources well.
Ellis Bell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on December 23, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I felt a genuine amazement as I dipped into this wonderful biography of Shakespeare. I started sceptically, wondering how a satisfying biography could be written of a figure that many have doubted even wrote the works for which his name has become known. Ackroyd handles this dillema beautifully by sometimes ignoring and otherwise illustrating that such speculations are poppycock. Little question remains that Shakespeare was a real man who wrote the works for which he is credited.

In this biography, there is a real warm blooded man living and creating in a real time in history. What most amazed and fascinated me by this work is how completely Ackroyd created the minutiae of William's world while building up the structure of William's life.

By minutiae, I do not mean dull plodding lists of details. Not at all. I mean the vital details that provide the fertile ground out of which a person's life grows, takes shape, and becomes what it becomes. You learn effortlessly about the wealth of his parents and relatives and how such wealth was acquired, and what it meant to acquire or not acquire wealth in those days. You learn what London was like when Shakespeare first went there. What role acting groups and theaters had in those days. And how William came to create his own theater. Most importantly, you learn the events that stimulated his writing plays in addition to being an actor in those (and others) plays. This type of information and more is woven together to create a picture of the world that Shakespeare lived in while creating a breathing portrait of the man himself.

There are a number of other books out this year on Shakespeare. Having read Ackroyd's bio, it's hard to imagine any of them replacing it or being more satisfying.
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54 of 59 people found the following review helpful By lola12 on November 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I picked up this book after being seriously disappointed in the bestseller "Will in the World". In that book, there were so many "Shakespeare may haves" or "Surely he would haves" that it distracted from the meat of the subject: Shakespeare's genius. In Ackroyd's biography we are no more sure of the facts of Shakespeare's life(which are cobbled together from the clues left to the world in the history of the time as well as Shakespeare's works themselves no matter where you read about them) but we are invited into the Elizabethan world that Shakespeare inhabited, given the "facts" about his life as they are presented by the various sides of the debate, and then given Ackroyd's insight into what is the most likely scenario. While you are still left feeling the "might haves" and "would haves", you leave the book feeling that you better understand Shakepeare's life and times. Unlike "Will in the World", which you leave unsure if what you just read was a historical romance based on the life of Shakepseare or an examination of that life. For my money, Ackroyd's is the book to read. Itis accessible, and it entertains and informs, leaving you in awe of what Shakespeare accomplished. Further, it engaged me so much on the topics of Elizabathan society and theatre, that I (not a scholar or a student) went out of my way to find other books on the topic. A must read for the Shakespeare lover.
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39 of 43 people found the following review helpful By C. M Mills on January 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
William Shakespeare (1564-1616)is the greatest dramatist and English poet in history. All aspects of human life-the muck and

moil, toil and tragedy, gaiety, romantic love, glory, honor,

kingship, prejudice and those thousand natural shocks that make us human are exposed in all their reality by the master from

Stratford on Avon in Warwackshire.

In the countless books on Shakespeare this one by Peter Ackroyd stands out like a Mt. Everest among lesser peaks.

The book is outstanding because:

1. Ackroyd goes to the sources reporting what we can know about Shakespeare based on family, church and court records which survive the long centuries.

2. He briefly explores the genesis of the plays.

3. He shows us how Shakespeare worked as a dramatist with player companies in the rough and tumble London literary scene. He wrote for plays to be produced in a time of plagues, riots, threats against the government, fires and countless difficulties in getting plays published and perfomed.

4. He looks at Shakespeare's rivalries with other eminent men of the theatre such as Ben Jonson and most notably Christopher Marlow. We seek Shakespeare learning stagecraft and honing his

incomparable pen to produce such immortal works as Hamlet, Macbeth, the history plays and such sparkling comedies as Much

Ado about Nothing and Twelfth Night.

6. Ackroyd takes us to the teeming streets of London. We smell,

taste, touch, dress and think like Elizabethians would do in their colorful, violent world of a brutal age.

7. Shakespeare is an enigma. We will never know the real man behind the glory of his written words.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Z. Weir on January 15, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Scholars and critics can agree on a number of select dates: Shakespeare was born in late April 1564; he died on April 23, 1616 - perhaps exactly on his fifty-third birthday; Anne Hathaway and Shakespeare married on December 1, 1582. Much of the rest, however, remains mere conjecture. Yet, as witnessed even by Ackroyd's immediate contemporaries - Stephen Greenblatt's "Will in the World" (2004), Marjorie Garber's "Shakespeare After All" (2004), and Harold Bloom's "Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human" (1999) come to mind, for example - the centrality of Shakespearean studies and commentary has retained a place in literary criticism and biography since the "rediscovery" of Shakespeare's work in the late eighteenth century. Opening a book entitled "Shakespeare: The Biography", the reader comes to Ackroyd's work with some fundamental questions: Has Ackroyd uncovered obscure significant documents and evidence overlooked by previous scholars, perhaps the dramatist's personal diary? How will he synthesize over 200 years of scholarship and writing in 592 pages, thus justifying the unapologetic and somewhat hubristic subtitle of "The Biography"?

Quite simply, Ackroyd subverts such expectations with his commitment to a certain style of biographical writing, following a formula that has proven successful in his other wide-canvas studies including "London: The Biography" (2001) and "Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination" (2002) - provide enough of the smells, flavors and brutality of historical context and the subject emerges at pace.
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